It’s election season and everyone who reads my wall knows I’m a liberal. Sometimes that comes as a surprise to newcomers, because I sort of fit the stereotypical Republican mold. I’m white, affluent, highly educated, a lawyer/writer (though I’ll note that I was raised in a working class home). I’m also a strong believer in the value of market forces/incentives, like to look at human nature with a cold eye (I see you there, Socialism, trying hard to form an economic system at odds with human nature, which is why you will always fail), and think that (regulated) capitalism is by far the best economic system the world has ever seen, harnessing, as it does, the unending well of individual human self-interest (particularly as it relates to making MOAR MONEEZ). Yet I vote Democratic. Why?
My first order reason (but far from the only reason): Because Democrats generally favor a robust social safety net. And that’s important to me because of the intersection of the safety net with humanism in the first instance, and its intersection with utilitarianism in the second.
Sounds weird, maybe? Here’s how I think about it (note that this is pretty broad; no doubt I could discuss details with my conservative and even-more-liberal-than-me friends at length, but that’s not the point of this post).
Every person is worthy, entitled even, to a modicum of human dignity. That’s axiomatic for me, deriving, as it does, from my humanism. And that means that each person should have a minimum standard of living, insofar as it can be provided. This is especially true of children. And I don’t care if their parents are fuck-ups or lazy or repeatedly make bad decisions. I want those children (and their parents) to live a life that holds a modicum of human dignity. I don’t want them hungry or cold or without shelter or medical care. This is (obviously) where the safety net intersects with my humanism.
Because for me, the safety net represents a direct, and reasonably successful attempt to solve those issues and provide that modicum of dignity. All programs have their problems, of course, but the aggregate amount of good done by Medicaid, SNAP, CHIP, and similar programs, is enormous. That alone would be reason enough for me to favor a robust safety net and therefore vote Democratic. But there’s another, more utilitarian reason.
I think talent (broadly defined) is distributed roughly equally across humankind. There are as many potential doctors and scientists and artists born into material want as there are born into material excess. But whether or not that talent is nurtured and has a chance to blossom is affected to a large degree by whether or not a person’s basic material needs are met. Those born into want, if unmitigated, may never get a chance to express their gifts, because wondering where or whether you’re going to eat today, or wondering where you’re going to sleep tonight, is going to crimp the ability to dream and think and ponder and read. And so I want those material needs met, because if those potential great minds become actual great minds, they’ll benefit all of us with their gifts. And that’s where the safety net intersects with my utilitarianism.
Anyway, take this FWIW. I don’t want this to turn into some partisan discussion. I realize intelligent, well informed conservatives (and liberals) have considered these issues and come to different conclusions. That’s fine. We vote to resolve those differences. I just wanted to share this, is all.